Rhonda Abrams column: Child care is a business issue, big and small

8:40 PM, Mar. 2, 2013  |  Comments
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I have a baby at my small business.

She comes to the office every day with her mother, my director of operations.

This isn't the first time I've had a baby in the office. Three years ago, we had an office baby for almost six months.

It's not because I'm gaga over babies. Of course, I like babies, but they're not really my first choice in office companions.

But the baby's mother is a valued and critical employee - I don't want to lose her, and a lack of high-quality child care hits close to home.

The lack of child care in this country is a crisis, and it's not just hurting parents and children - it's hurting businesses, especially small businesses.

President Barack Obama shined a light on this issue in his recent State of the Union address.

"Today, fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program," the president said. "Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

"Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on - by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime."

The president saw the problem of a lack of high-quality preschool in terms of what it means for America for the next 20 years. But for entrepreneurs and small-business owners, the problem is immediate.

Let's face some facts:

Women work. About 72.6 million women worked outside the home in 2012.

Women with preschool-age children work. In 2011, about 64 percent of mothers with children younger than 6 were in the labor force, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Women with preschool-age children work for small businesses. About half of all private business employees work for small companies, according to the Small Business Administration. So it's a reasonable assumption that about half of all working women with preschool children work for small businesses.

(Yes, I know that men also take care of their preschool children. But even in this day and age, women still overwhelmingly are responsible for their young children.)

The lack of child care is a huge challenge for big corporations, too.

Years ago, when speaking with Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko's, I inquired why one of the major initiatives of his charitable foundation was child care. He explained that a lack of child care was the No. 1 reason his valued female employees could not show up for work at Kinko's.

We, as small-business owners, have a vested interest in seeing that America helps provide child care and preschool education that is:

Affordable. The median income for a woman working full time is $37,118.

With deductions, this means monthly take-home pay is about $2,700. In my community, the least expensive decent day care is $1,100 a month - and you're lucky to find that.

If a woman has two children in day care, it begins to make little sense for her to work, considering the cost of commuting, work clothes, etc.

Reliable. Most working parents must patch together two or more child-care or preschool arrangements to cover a full-time work schedule.

If a child gets sick? Well, you can count on that mother not being able to come to work. That means your business gets disrupted.

High quality. It's not only that America needs high-quality preschool for our future generations, but without such day care and preschool, even mothers who can afford to go to work often choose not to.

I'm old enough to remember when the issue of providing affordable, high-quality child care was discussed as a national and economic imperative, not relegated solely to be a problem for working moms.

But right-wing politicians objected to such initiatives, and they never were instituted.

Small businesses all over the country lose terrific workers every day because of the lack of good child-care options, and some of the best and brightest women have dropped out of the workforce.

We as small-business owners can't afford to let this initiative fail again.

Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop and publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her most recent book is Entrepreneurship: A Real-World Approach. Register for Rhonda's free newsletter and see an archived index of Abrams' columns at PlanningShop.com. Twitter: @RhondaAbrams. Facebook: facebook.com/Rhonda


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